State special education monitoring errors could impact federal consent decree over New Orleans schools

Marta Jewson:

Court-appointed monitors overseeing special education services in New Orleans have been reviewing the wrong schools. The problem may force the extension of a four-year-old federal consent decree negotiated to settle a 2010 lawsuit that charged that the city’s charter schools were admitting too few special-needs students and failing to provide proper services to the ones they did enroll.

A June case record in the long-running federal class-action lawsuit identified “potential errors” with the monitoring process. And this week, a state Department of Education spokeswoman confirmed what those errors were.

The issue calls into question the past two years of supervision, during which state Department of Education employees and federally appointed monitors have recorded progress in improving their oversight of special education services. Over that period, the defendants in the suit — the Orleans Parish School Board and the state Department of Education — were found to have achieved “substantial compliance” with the consent decree. They are now nearing a point at which federal Judge Jay Zainey — who is presiding over the case — could lift the decree, ending court and monitor supervision.